Pendleton company builds its own path to health

Cayuse TechnologiesDec. 7, 2017

Two years ago, Billy Nerenberg had a problem.

The CEO of Cayuse Technologies, a Pendleton-based business services firm, faced a sharp increase in the company's health insurance rates, causing it financial stress. Many employees were diabetic or pre-diabetic. They struggled with obesity and addiction. The company's insurance utilization rate hovered around 163 percent.

To solve the problem, Nerenberg turned to his wife, Rhonda, who is a nurse, and local physician Russell Harrison, M.D., to create a company wellness program. Dr. Harrison recruited to his practice an OHSU P.A. student precepting at his clinic, and last year Erika Acuna, P.A.-C., M.P.A.S. '16, joined the Cayuse effort.

Each Friday, Acuna sees patients at Cayuse Technologies as part of Dr. Harrison's practice, providing primary care services in tandem with health education. When employees make progress on their health goals, she happily gives high-fives.

The Friday clinic is part of the company's hands-on approach to reduce insurance costs and improve the health of its 300 workers and now families. Employees who participate have their insurance premiums program fee waived.

These days, Acuna is giving out a lot of high-fives. She recalls one worker in his late 50s who had uncontrolled Type 2 diabetes and was at risk for a stroke or heart attack. He joined the Cayuse wellness program, she says, and slowly made behavior and lifestyle changes. His cholesterol levels returned to normal, and he's managing his diabetes.

"I see him bouncing around work now, and his colleagues notice his weight loss and energy and ask, 'What did you do?'" said Acuna. "When they find out, they join the wellness program. It's working on a number of fronts."

"Today, our insurance utilization rate is around 58 percent,"said Nerenberg. "We cut 25 percent of our total insurance costs, which not only pays for the program but lowers our bottom line costs. And our people are healthier."

Nerenberg credits the turnaround to the convenience of in-house medical services and the program's personal, continuous care approach. "Erika really cares, and that's evident," he said.

Acuna says she's always wanted to go into rural medicine. "There is a need for practitioners here, and I love this community and its tough, hard-working people. I've found my passion."

A wellness program at Cayuse Technologies resulted in major improvements to employee health. From left, Rhonda Nerenberg, Billy Nerenberg and P.A. ErikaAcuna play key roles in the program.

This article first published in the Fall 2017 issue of Bridges, the school's alumni magazine.